"The UAHC is very much the silent partner in synagogue life," said Hershman, who turns 65 this year. UAHC "is important to member congregations because it is an interested third party in a position to help out."
In his office on San Francisco's Market Street last week, Hershman reflected on a quarter century with the UAHC's Northern California Council. The office serves more than 40 synagogues in areas encompassing the Central Valley, Monterey Peninsula, Reno, Salt Lake City and Hawaii.
Over the past quarter decade, Hershman has been called upon to deal with everything from synagogue growth to the thornier issues of internal tensions and rabbinical misconduct, a subject he would clearly prefer not to address on this sunny afternoon.
But according to others, helping to resolve such conflicts is a forte of Hershman's.
"He never criticized, never put people down," said Jack Kadesh, who served as UAHC president from 1987-1991. "He always gave people the feeling that their voice was important and guided them in such a way that it came to a good resolution."
The ins and outs of synagogue life were familiar to Hershman long before he came to work for the UAHC. A former congregational rabbi, he held pulpits in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as well as at Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond. In the early 1960s, he served as associate rabbi of San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel, and then took a pulpit in Los Angeles.
Hershman signed on to the UAHC, he said, to blend his pulpit experience with the knowledge he had garnered working at synagogues of all sizes.
When he arrived, according to Kadesh, the region "was not in the best shape." Rather, he said, it lacked dynamic programming and an organized method of funneling dues to the national UAHC.
"Morrie brought a lot more structure to [the region], a lot more programming, a lot of innovative ideas. It developed into a very substantial region."
Among the programs on which Hershman focused were regional biennials, where UAHC members explored everything from the nuts and bolts of synagogue life to the spiritual and ethical issues facing Reform Judaism. He also placed a priority on programs that introduce non-Jewish spouses of synagogue members to Judaism.
Hershman was also instrumental in helping the UAHC acquire a new site just north of Santa Rosa to be used as a second summer camp — in addition to Camp Swig — and as a community conference center.
Upon retiring, Hershman plans to spend several months in Israel with his wife, Geri. He also looks forward to spending more time with his three children and two grandchildren.
But he says he hasn't ruled out the possibility of taking on some future part-time work, including returning to the pulpit.
Assuming Hershman's duties until a full-time director is hired is Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, leader of Temple Israel in Alameda and Stanford University's newly appointed first Jewish chaplain.